OP2924. ELEKTRA, Live Performance, 16 Dec., 1965, w.Böhm Cond. Vienna Staatsoper Ensemble; Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek, Regina Resnik, Wolfgang Windgassen, Eberhard Wächter, Gundula Janowitz, etc. (Austria) 2-Orfeo C 886 1421, w.Elaborate Libretto-Brochure. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 4011790886220
“...the performance captured here has a genuine claim to be historic because it captures what was, in effect, Birgit Nilsson’s first foray into the role of Elektra. True, she had, as the notes point out, sung the role in Stockholm beforehand, but that was mainly as a try-out for taking it to Vienna. What we have here is that very first Viennese night. It’s thrilling, not just as a historical document, but also as brilliant music-making.
Nilsson’s assumption of the title role is a thing of wonder. There is extraordinary freshness to both her singing and her articulation of the words. It's full of the thrill of discovery of a role that was to become so key for her career, and infinitely preferable to her singing for Levine a decade and a half later, and even to the precision of her studio recording for Solti. Listen, for example, to how she mocks Chrysothemis or the delicious way she plays with her mother during Klytämnestra’s scene, before demanding her death in some of the most viscerally thrilling singing you’ll hear. She gives a wonderful gasp of delight at the beginning of the recognition scene and shows delicious scorn in her scene with Aegisthus. Throughout, she rides the tidal wave of the orchestra as though she were drawing inspiration from it rather than being intimidated by it. The clarity of her tone is sensational, never showing the slightest sign of tiring.
The supporting cast is every bit as exciting. Leonie Rysanek sings Chrysothemis with beauty and a great deal of pathos, but there is real desperation to her desire for children, culminating in some genuinely moving sobs. She then sounds properly elated after the murders, before a note of poignancy enters her voice at the very end. Regina Resnik’s Klytämnestra is to be preferred over her studio recording with Solti. There is a darkness, an almost sultry quality to the voice, which makes her Klytämnestra much more interesting than usual. It is full of not only weariness but also beauty, and even a hint of danger. The description of her nightmare is hair-raising, partly because it is so restrained. It’s wonderful to have a genuine heldentenor Aegisthus, and it’s not difficult to remember that Windgassen was singing Siegfried and Tristan for Böhm at Bayreuth at the same time that he set down this uniquely passionate Aegisth. Only Wächter is a little disappointing, sounding pale and lacking in confidence compared to the company with whom he shares the stage. Perhaps he was having an off night.
There is a cutting edge of violence to Böhm’s reading of the score, much more so than in his famous 1960 reading from Dresden. You get it right from those opening chords, in fact, full-on, bursting with strength, but also clipped and quick to subside. He builds the tension in the key transition passages with extraordinary skill, nowhere more so than in the passage which accompanies the approach of Klytämnestra’s procession, and he whips the orchestra up into a frenzy during the final dance. He observes the theatrical cuts for which he was notorious, but he generates so much electricity in recompense that I’m prepared to forgive him.
The Vienna orchestra play for him like men possessed, fully buying into Böhm’s vision. The various solos and spotlights come out with an elegance and delicacy that belies the radio sound. While no mono recording can ever hope to capture the full gamut of Strauss’ breathtaking orchestration, the engineers do a pretty good job with this one, despite its limitations.
When you have the likes of Gerhard Unger and Gundula Janowitz buried away in the cast of servants, you know you have a class act on your hands. This is a great release for the Strauss centenary, and one to be enjoyed as an essential adjunct to the other Elektras from Böhm and Nilsson.”
- Simon Thompson, MusicWebInternational
“This performance derives from a radio broadcast from the Vienna State Opera in 1965. It features one of the most striking casts ever assembled for the work…. Böhm's Klytemnestra, like Solti's, is the great Regina Resnik, whose haunting performance here is the more engrossing of the two. Böhm himself is at his absolute best, attaining almost unbearable levels of frenzy in places, yet also wonderfully detailed, even with the restricted, mono sound.
Tim Ashley, THE GUARDIAN, 7 Aug., 2014
“Regina Resnik won the Metropolitan Opera auditions and débuted with great success at the Met on 6 December, 1944, as a last-minute replacement for Zinka Milanov. The rôle was Leonora in Verdi’s IL TROVATORE and over the years performed many of opera’s most important roles on its most prominent stages, including those of the New York City Opera, the San Francisco Opera, Covent Garden and other European houses. Her best-known roles include Ellen Orford in Britten’s PETER GRIMES, Donna Anna and Donna Elvira in Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI and the title role in Bizet’s CARMEN. Later in her career she performed in musical theater and became a sought-after instructor and opera director. She was known for her strong dramatic skills and impeccable musicianship onstage and for her bold personality offstage. She displayed fearlessness from the beginning. Following the triumph of her first season, Resnik became a leading soprano at the Met, during which time she sang Rosalinde in this English-language production of DIE FLEDERMAUS, a delightful tour-de-force!
In 1942, she made her début at the New Opera Company of New York after being given 24 hours’ notice that she was needed to substitute. Two years later, she made a similar last-minute substitution in her début at the Metropolitan Opera as Leonora, in IL TROVATORE. Each time she impressed. ‘All things considered, Miss Resnik’s début was an auspicious one’, a review of her Metropolitan début in THE NEW YORK TIMES said. ‘She has a strong, clear soprano, which, though occasionally marred by a tremolo, is both agile enough for the florid passages allotted to Leonora and forceful enough for the dramatic ones’.
Ms. Resnik became a much-admired soprano and toured widely through the mid-1950s, when she and others began to notice that her voice was darkening. A friend, the baritone Giuseppe Danise, helped persuade her to change, telling her he believed she had always been a mezzo. ‘It was the biggest gamble of my life, when I decided over two tumultuous years that perhaps I was not a soprano after all’, she told The Times in 1967. ‘There were many opinions: I was a soprano with low notes, or mezzo with high notes’. The gamble paid off, she said, and it ultimately provided her with better roles, including some of her most notable, as Carmen, Klytämnestra in ELEKTRA, Mistress Quickly in FALSTAFF and the Countess in PIQUE DAME. ‘I have really run the gamut’, she added, emphatic that she had not lost her upper register. ‘And my range is exactly the same today. Not one note higher or lower. But I was happier in the depth of my voice than in its height’.
Ms. Resnik graduated from James Monroe High School in the Bronx and studied music education at Hunter College, graduating in 1942.
‘She was a totally American original’, said F. Paul Driscoll, the editor in chief of OPERA NEWS. ‘She was always very proud of being educated in the United States and beginning her career in the United States’. Mr. Driscoll emphasized Ms. Resnik’s resilience, particularly under Rudolf Bing, the sometimes autocratic general manager of the Met, for much of her career. ‘She embraced the opportunities she was given, and whether or not Mr. Bing thought they were star parts, she made them star parts’, Mr. Driscoll said. ‘Directors loved her, conductors loved her, and the audience loved her’.”
- William Yardley, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 Aug., 2013
“The most important singer of the German Heldentenor repertory in the 1950s and 1960s, Wolfgang Windgassen employed his not-quite-heroic instrument, believable physique, and considerable musical intelligence to forge memorable performances on-stage and in the recording studio.
The tenor made his début as Alvaro in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO at Pforzheim in 1941. In 1945, he joined the Württembergisches Staatstheater in Stuttgart, steadily moving from lyric rôles to more heroic parts; he remained a singer there until 1972. Upon making his début in the first postwar season at Bayreuth in 1951, he came to international attention. His Parsifal, growing from uncomprehending innocence to maturity and service, was a moving portrayal and was recorded live by Decca Records. Windgassen became indispensable at the Bayreuth Festival, excelling as Lohengrin, the two Siegfrieds, Tannhäuser, and Tristan. There, he earned the respect and devotion of the three leading dramatic sopranos of the age: Martha Mödl, Astrid Varnay, and Birgit Nilsson. Elsewhere, Windgassen made positive impressions at La Scala (where he débuted as Florestan in 1952), Paris (Parsifal in 1954), and Covent Garden, where he appeared as Tristan in 1954. Although regarded by English critics as somewhat light of voice for Wagner's heaviest tenor rôles, his lyric expression and dramatic aptness were wholly admired. The Metropolitan Opera briefly heard him as Siegmund beginning in January 1957 and as Siegfried. Windgassen did not return to America until 1970, when he sang Tristan to the Isolde of Nilsson at San Francisco. Beginning that same year, he turned to stage direction. Among Windgassen's finest recordings are his Bayreuth PARSIFAL, captured with a superb cast under Knappertsbusch's direction, his 1954 Bayreuth LOHENGRIN under Jochum, his SIEGFRIEDs under both Böhm at Bayreuth and in the studio with Solti, and his Bayreuth TRISTAN with Böhm conducting and Nilsson as his Isolde.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com